BURIED in yesterday’s flurry of news was the Ombudsman’s decision on the bevy of complaints seeking to hold accountable the previous Aquino administration over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the controversial economic stimulus scheme declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014.
The Manila Times, however, chose to highlight the indictment of ex-Budget Secretary Florencio Abad (and the non-indictment of former President Benigno Aquino III) over the House death penalty vote or the supposed bribe attempt on the President given the weight of the subject matter—serious violations of the Constitution and the illegal juggling of billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money—which Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales seems to have made light of.
The timing is uncanny for the release of such an appalling decision, perhaps the worst in Morales’ tenure as “protector of the people” against official corruption and malfeasance.
First, Morales allowed Aquino, DAP’s enabler who gave her her post-retirement job, to get away despite his trampling of the Constitution to convert illegally impounded budget “savings” into presidential pork barrel.
Second, the single indictment of Abad, the DAP brains and executor, for “usurpation of legislative powers” is laughable and amounts to a slap on the wrist for someone who disbursed illegally accumulated funds with impunity.
Let’s deal with Abad first. The indictment, we believe, sets the stage for the eventual acquittal of Aquino’s right-hand man who thought he could seize the budgets of offices in the entire Executive branch, declare them “savings” (in the middle of the fiscal year) and divert them to expenditures that were nowhere to be found in the budget law.
The charge against Abad should have been technical malversation, not the severely weak case of usurpation of legislative powers which carries penalties of a mere P1,000 fine and imprisonment of at least six months.
Technical malversation is a heavier criminal offense, which occurs when public funds or property are used for purposes different from which they were originally appropriated by law – which Abad did when he pooled “savings” from the Executive branch and gave the money to unbudgeted projects. In fact, DAP funds crossed over to the Judiciary and Legislative branches, which received the money unwittingly and, upon discovering its source, found the practice reprehensible.
A charge for technical malversation would mean Abad facing hefty fines of 5 percent to 50 percent of the funds misapplied and prison time of six months to two years for multiple counts of misapplication – at least 116 projects from 2011 to 2013 worth P167 billion.
Instead, Morales found Abad “guilty” of “simple misconduct,” which carries a three-month suspension convertible to a fine equivalent to three months’ salary!
Abad’s press release betrays his expected legal defense of conceptualizing and implementing DAP, illegal and unconstitutional as it were, “in good faith.”
“The Ombudsman’s decision also affirms the truth that I did not personally benefit from implementing the DAP. I never used public funds for my own gain, and I never will,” Abad said.
Did he not, really? Abad thinks the public has forgotten that DAP largesse financed the P50-million reward to each senator who voted to convict the late Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial in 2012, one of Aquino’s many acts of vendetta against his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The bigger travesty is Morales letting Aquino off the hook. How is Abad the only government official liable, when his official actions were authorized by Aquino?
If Morales found grounds to indict and jail Arroyo for scribbling marginal notes on requests for the release of sweepstakes intelligence funds in 2012, why not Aquino, who signed and approved the release of billions in DAP money?
The decision is a scandal, coming from an Ombudsman who, just a few days ago, moralized before seminarians on the need to fight corruption and uphold good governance.
Morales has a chance to undo this terrible injustice as the Ombudsman resolution is still subject to a motion for reconsideration. Aquino and Abad must answer for DAP. If Morales refuses, she, too, must be held to account.